The Cedar Falls Ice House
The Cedar Falls Ice House was built in November, 1921, by
Hugh Smith, owner of the Cedar Falls Ice and Fuel Company. The first ice house
had been built in this location in 1858 near the cabin site of Black Hawk
County’s first permanent settler, William Sturgis.
The old wooden ice house was destroyed by fire on the night
of October 22, 1921. On that night, Smith and his wife were attending a
performance at the Cotton Theatre, (now the Regent Theatre). His son located
Smith in an aisle seat and whispered, “Papa! The ice house is burning down!”
Smith hurried to his place of business and watched the ice house go up in
flames in less than an hour.
On October 24, 1921, The
Cedar Falls Record reported: “An expert building engineer from Chicago is
en route today on a telegraphic call from Manager Smith to assist him in
drawing up plans for a reinforced structure to replace the old frame building.”
The community rallied to Smith’s aid. On the Thursday following the fire, 200
volunteers cleared the rubble, and the footings for the new ice house were
poured less than a week after the old house had burned down. A few days later
the walls of the new building were started.
The new building was 100 feet in diameter with tile walls 30
feet high. The walls were made of hollow clay tile reinforced with steel ties
between the layers of tile. The ice house had a capacity for 6,000 to 8,000
tons of ice.
Early on the morning of January 10, 1922, the first ice
harvest for the new ice house on the Cedar River was begun. At the close of the
1922 harvest, carpenters assembled and raised the trussed double-pitched roof
by using the top layer of blocks as a scaffold.
The building was used as an ice house from 1922 until 1934
when Hugh Smith lost his business and the property was taken over by the Cedar
Falls Trust and Saving Bank. For a time the building was used as a livestock
sales pavilion and later flooded for ice skating.
In 1938 members of the Cedar Falls Boat Club persuaded the
city to purchase the building. Subsequently, the Club leased the structure from
the city for use as a boat storage building for the sum of $1.00 per year. The Boat
Club occupied the ice house until 1976 when the roof was deemed unsafe and the
building was condemned.
The Cedar Falls Historical Society partnered with the City
of Cedar Falls to save the unique building from demolition. They were
successful in getting the building listed on the National Register of Historic
places, and after extensive repairs and restoration, they created a beloved
The 2008 Flood
The Ice House was necessarily
built within a stone’s throw of the Cedar River. So, nearly every spring, dedicated volunteers and staff have
carefully wrapped and sandbagged the structure to protect it from rising water.
But in 2008, the record water levels were too high to stop. Water rushed over
the sandbags, pushed open the doors, and rose to four feet inside the building.
Strong currents threw the displays and artifacts around and damaged many
objects beyond repair. Flood mud coated everything.
As soon as possible, volunteers began assisting the
Historical Society staff with the messy and grueling job of cleanup, and they
began raising the funds necessary to restore the historic structure. The
Historical Society successfully completed repairs to the building, raised the
existing floor above 2008 flood levels, and installed new exhibitions using the
Visitors can once again experience the atmosphere of a
historic ice house, and they can learn the history of the international ice
trade and see how the Cedar River has shaped Cedar Falls.